Jon Ridewood: Kobe Bean Bryant was the player that led me to my kind of bullshit theory that at some point in a veteran player’s career, they will be likable. Derek Fisher is the exception to the rule. I hated Derek Fisher at every point in his playing career, but while I hated early and mid-career Kobe, late-career Kobe has been a light.
Early-career Kobe was a transparent pose by a child star. Early-career Kobe took Brandy to prom and aggressively wanted you to like him and to think that he was the heir to Jordan’s throne, both as the best player in the league and as its most marketable star. Early-career Kobe didn’t exactly get along with Shaq but put on good face about it. He might talk a little in Italian. Early-career Kobe ended with the sexual assault allegations in 2003.
Mid-career Kobe became a practicing Catholic and the hardest working guy in the league. He was “doin’ work” and could only be described as “maniacal.” Mid-career Kobe probably spent many hours in the gym shooting jumpers and thinking about how much he hated Shaq. Mid-career Kobe birthed the Kobe Truthers, the league’s least-rational fan group. However, my personal favorite moment of mid-career Kobe was the 2008 gold medal game against Spain. The game was broadcasted early in the morning in the United States. and felt like a secret. Kobe Bryant basically said, “nah. I got this. Go to sleep.”
But if you thought mid-career Kobe gave zero fucks, late-career Kobe somehow gave less. We’ll define late-period Kobe as everything that happens after Nike launches the #Kobesystem ad campaign, where Kobe was Steve Jobs giving a Ted Talk on his “winning philosophy” to a roomful of celebrities. After suffering a torn Achilles in April of one year, Kobe came back in December and signed a two-year extension to remain the league’s highest paid player. He would finish those next two seasons on the injured list, but everything thing else was fire.
After taking control of an HBO documentary about his life, Kobe had one of the all-time great NBA interviews where for GQ Chuck Klosterman asked Kobe if he had any friends and Kobe replied he had “like minds.”
Then this season Bryant announced his retirement via a poem in the Players’ Tribune titled “Dear Basketball.” This would make the rest of the season a big circus, and Kobe went out the same way he came in – chucking. He’s taken over fifteen attempts a game despite shooting well-below 40%.
Kobe also told visiting teams that he did not want going-away gifts. Kobe must know the Laker lore of Kareem being given a rocking chair on his farewell tour. That’s the only bad thing about late-period Kobe: we never saw him sit in a rocking chair with a stupid grin on his face.
Who knows what Kobe’s post-playing career will be like? Only a dumb team would name him general manager or coach. Maybe that’s the Lakers. An ill-fated comeback is more likely with Kobe than with other players. ESPN makes sense as an option. I would love to see him on a halftime show with Jalen Rose, but more than anything, I want Kobe to take his insane work ethic to another industry. I want anecdotes about Kobe in Italy learning about different kinds of silk pocket squares. The best we can hope for is Kobe Bryant starts a production company and wins an Oscar – because in some ways, Kobe is the biggest star in L.A. and he would look like he belonged on that stage.
Jared Mintz: You ever realize you made a mistake, 20 years too late?
I’m not saying I did, but it appears that I chose the wrong side. With that said, the heart wants what the heart wants.
Growing up a mega hoops fan in New York City as the St. John’s men’s basketball program began its rapid decline in the mid 1990’s, I never really had a favorite college basketball team. As I got more and more hooked on hoops as my Knicks knocked harder and harder on the door of winning an NBA championship, I needed a college team to invest in for some relief when Michael Jordan would break my heart annually.
Even at Georgetown, a pre-tatted, pre-cornrowed Allen Iverson was just a different cat. I mean, how could a freshman come into the Big East and average 20-plus per game, especially considering he couldn’t have been any bigger than 5-foot-11, 150 pounds soaking wet?
After two-years of tearing up the co-ed rankings, Iverson was selected with the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the same one that saw Kobe Bryant go 13th. In a draft that created plenty of very good players, and goes down as one of the greatest drafts of all time, young NBA fans were given a fork in the road.
I obviously chose the Iverson path.
As I defended my hero through gun charges, hero ball/volume scoring, and “practice” rants, I found that other guy to be incredibly insufferable because of his Jordan worshiping/d*ck-riding, unmatched arrogance, garbage raps (not that Jewelz was much better), and the idea that he should be “the man” on a team with Shaq.
Although the 2001 NBA Finals should have been all of the proof needed that I was fighting an uphill battle, I resented Kobe for pretty much the duration of his career for being compared to Iverson. The truth is the two shouldn’t have been compared because Kobe was on a different planet.
I didn’t like the attitude, but I should have respected the approach. I didn’t care for the attempt to emulate MJ, but should have realized this was the closest we probably ever were going to get. I hated the Adidas line but…nah those sneakers were pure garbage.
I’ve always argued Kobe’s historical significance to the NBA, but at the end of the day we’re talking about a guy with five championships and the third most points in league history. He may not have influenced me or the way I played growing up, but if you ask today’s NBA stars who they grew up idolizing, most will say Kobe.
I’ve always taken pride in my ability to be a hater, but the older I get, the more I resent myself for allowing emotion to get in the way of appreciating something’s value. Even though he wasn’t Jordan, Kobe was a once in a generation player. He wasn’t unique like Iverson was, but he’s a different cat in his own right, not giving a shit if people like him or not. While you can argue that Kobe was always consumed with Kobe, it seems more accurate to say he was consumed with greatness, which he unquestionably worked his ass off to achieve.
And even if he wasn’t Jordan, he did a great job replacing him as my NBA villain. Hats off to a great career, I’ll miss hating you Kob.
Mel Evans: In 2003, Kobe Bryant bought his young, beautiful wife Vanessa an 8-carat purple diamond ring, which cost a pretty $4 mil. Probably very coincidentally, Bryant had also just been charged with the rape of a 19-year old girl. Just a coincidence! Kobe said he had commissioned the ring two whole weeks before the charges, so this was not at all a blood diamond. (though it probably was actually a blood diamond). Regardless of its timing, it became known as the “Apology Ring,” whether that apology was intended to be for the charges or the trauma he put her through or because he was out raping teenagers while she was home with a 4 month old, we’ll never know.
But let’s just look at the logic of gifting a $4 million dollar ring. Sure, we go by the rule of two months salary for an engagement ring, and if you’re Kobe Bryant, that math checks out. Very thoughtful. However, it raises the question: where the actual F does one wear a $4 million purple rock? Movie stars don’t even borrow jewelry that expensive on the Oscars red carpet. Vanessa had a four-month old baby. She is not wearing rings around the house when she’s holding a poop machine all day. She’s not going to pop over to the King Sooper’s in a $4 million dollar ring without a security detail. Also she has others she can wear. Five others to be exact:
Only 5 more games left!!!???????????????? Had to post the 5 Championship rings my boo-boo gave me. So awesome to have been a part of his journey. ???????????????????? (For those that think this is Kobe's set of rings: This is a set of Championship rings my husband gifted to me. His ring size is twice the size of mine. Obviously, this is NOT HIS SET OF CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS…..???????? My thumb ring would never fit his pinky).???? #OBVI ????
So Kobe spent all that on a big gaudy purple reminder that Vanessa married a scumbag (totally innocent though!) just to be photographed court side in it a couple times. Worth it. He probably should have spent $4 million on, oh I don’t know, sex rehab. Or therapy. Or learning to be a better person. But how you spend your money is up to you – until your 2011 divorce proceedings (but hey, that worked out too!)
TJ Finley: Let me be clear here. Kobe Bryant is one of the best players of all time. He could do it all: shoot, defend, dribble, hit clutch shots. He even somehow managed to make Smush Parker look good at times. On top of that, Kobe was also amazing to behold just generally, being that he literally refuses to pass even when covered by 4 defenders, (no seriously, this is the greatest picture in NBA history), is always brutally honest with the media, is one of the greatest trash talkers of all time, and goes out of his way to bash his teammates. Kobe was like reality TV before reality TV, except for the fact that he was also awesome at his job (unlike those dudes from “Storage Wars” who suck). I will always remember watching Kobe and having that feeling that every time he touched the ball, he was going to do something that we’d be talking about the next day. For all of these reasons, I’m sad to see him go. The game will never be the same without him.
All that being said– like many of you– I absolutely despise Kobe Bryant. He’s the goddamn worst. He’s so cocky and no matter if he won or lost, he was still Kobe and that means that he really won in the end. He’s the perfect personification of those Lakers fans that bring up how many rings they’ve won after every loss to deflect the slander (AKA all Lakers fans). Laker fans are the 4th worst thing to ever happen to the world right between Donald Trump and those dudes that write “first” in the comment section. As such, my favorite Kobe moments involve him taking crushing losses either on or off the floor because schadenfreude is real. No Kobe moment gave me as much pleasure as this one, one of the most amazing moments in NBA history.
Let me set this up. This game was a matchup of two of the best teams in the league (The Knicks won 50 games that year and lost to the Pacers in the ECF. The Lakers won 67 games and went on to beat those same Pacers in the finals). Everyone is watching as both teams get ready for the playoffs. The game had playoff intensity and was physical the entire way through (I mean, you can’t have Ewing and Shaq on the same floor and not have a physical game).
Kobe and Chris had been jawing at each other for a few minutes. Chris Childs says that Kobe was hitting him with elbows off of screens all night and when the refs didn’t help, he told Kobe that if he did it again, they’d have an issue. (Sidenote: Kobe didn’t say anything about the fight. Probably because his lips were swollen shut) Right before the fight starts, Kobe dives down to the block and Chris Childs gives him a slight push. Kobe says something and Chris pushes him again, this time a bit more forcefully. Then they get in each other’s faces and Kobe hits him with an elbow/forearm in his neck. Then…it happened…
Chris Childs two-pieced young Kobe back to Italy. Its pure art. I could watch it 1000 times over on loop, and I did, because this is around the time where videos were becoming viral sensations on the internet. I sent this damn video to everyone I knew. It’s perfect.
When Kobe awakens from his dazed confusion, he swings a few times, but he misses and the teams and refs have already broken it up.
The most interesting part about this fight is that it happened WHILE PLAY WAS STILL GOING. Shaq and Ewing are in the post at the same time Chris Child is giving Kobe the 2 piece from hell. Also, after the swings, Ewing and Shaq get into a shoving match as well. This is not only my favorite Kobe memory because it allowed me to make fun of Lakers and Kobe fans for literally years after. It’s also one I hold near and dear to me because you never ever see fights anymore in the NBA. Not that I want every NBA game to have a fight but I miss the days when a fight was POSSIBLE.
Anyway, props to Kobe on a wonderful career. He changed the game forever. That being said, that time he got two pieced will be the thing I think of first whenever I hear his name.
Courtney Cox: Like most sports fans, I appreciate a good documentary about the ups and downs of some of the game’s top athletes and teams. ESPN’s “30 for 30” franchise (and ESPN Films as a whole) revolutionized the genre, churning out a variety of stories – the obvious and obscure – in an easy to digest format. And for Kobe Bryant, several films have attempted to document his impact on the game, his everyday rituals and hardest of all, his personality, should one exist. There’s the 2009 Spike Lee joint “Kobe Doin’ Work” where we see a day in his life, the classic ESPN SportsCentury film, and a slew of other ones on YouTube should you find yourself looking to avoid all pressing obligations (not that I’ve done that in the past week or anything).The Kobe doc that really does “Kobe” the best for me is Showtime’s “Muse,” the most recent Kobe documentary that seems like the entry point to Kobe’s more outspoken, honest stage in his career. For me, there’s two important takeaways from this film. There is the fact that somewhere, somehow, in a dusty basement of a filmmaker’s home, there’s a documentary featuring some of the best to ever do it – players, coaches, analysts, you name it – talking about Kobe and telling amazing stories we will never get to hear. All because Kobe pulled a Kobe (“allegedly”) and changed the whole documentary to…Kobe. I’ve never seen or even thought about a documentary without other perspectives – it seems to go against the whole concept to me. And Kobe doesn’t have the reputation of being the type to carry an hour and a half special with a glowing personality.
And somehow, it worked.
I’m still not sure why. As the vice president of my local Kobe hater chapter in LA (we’re a small and humble one, believe that), I was pretty sure I’d be dehydrated and starving from all the vomiting from nonstop Kobe, but I actually learned a lot about him, his process, and the struggles of any aging athlete to come back from injury (after injury, after injury…), which can be immensely frustrating for anyone, especially someone like him, who sets the highest expectations for themselves. There was more emotion, more transparency than I’ve ever seen from Kobe (and most athletes, to be honest) that I found to be refreshing and fascinating to watch. No matter how you feel about him, you have to respect what he’s given the game of basketball the past 20 years. I can’t imagine the game without him, and I hope that we seem him talking trash about everyone else in the league behind a desk very soon. Until then, there’s 83 minutes of Kobe talking about himself. And somewhere, perhaps, a really dope film that will never see the light of day.
Evan Barnes: There’s a lot of great Kobe memories that resonate with where I was in life. Kobe’s 40-point streak came freshman year in college during a good stretch in life. The 81-point masterpiece came on winter break of senior year and I remember racing home that night after hearing on the radio what he was doing. The 5th ring in 2010 came the same month I quit my job and had no idea what to expect next.
But I’m going with another great memory from 2009-2010 that showed one of the best players of the 2000’s starting off the 2010s right. New Year’s Day. Lakers are playing Sacramento. The rivalry wasn’t heated at that point but Sacramento was on the verge of stealing a win. Then Kobe got wide open off an inbounds pass with 4.1 seconds left, gathered himself and said Happy New Year/Decade with a game-winning 3-pointer in front of the Kings bench.
That year, Kobe had six game-winning shots but hit five in the span of two months. December 4 2009, he banked an off-balance 3-pointer with Dwyane Wade in his face that I still can’t believe went in. December 16, he missed a game-winner over Charlie Bell only to make up for it with a game-winner in OT over Bell. January 31 – he capped that streak with a late shot to seal a win over Boston which had me going nuts because I hoped that would happen again in the Finals.
You hear a lot of analytics folks try to quantify what clutch is by judging FG% in a certain time frame. All I can tell you is what my eyes saw that two month stretch where it seemed like if the game was close, Kobe would deliver.
Nikhil: After the 2005-06 NBA season, we thought we had seen it all from Kobe. He averaged over 35.0 PPG, the highest in a season since MJ twenty years before (in an era where the pace far exceeded the NBA in the mid-00s). He had that 81-point game that everyone quickly forgot about, save for Jalen Rose, who likely still has nightmares. He’d already won 3 titles before his 25th birthday and had dragged Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and the rest of the lifeless Lakers into the playoffs. There was a good chance that he’d win more titles down the road and continue to rack up highlights like only the Black Mamba could. But during those few non-contending years, all we wanted was a show. We expected back to back 40 point games. Hell, at this point nobody would even bat an eyelid at back to back 50 point games. Instead, the Mamba proceeded to surpass our loftiest expectations in a four game stretch in March 2007, during which he gifted us back to back to back to back 50 point games. In the first and third of those four games, he dropped 60 for good measure. The utter absurdity of it all.
My basketball memories (actually all my memories) tend to run together. I tend to forget where I was, what I was doing when something great happens. But I can tell you that in that stretch, during every Lakers game, my eyes remained glued to my desktop, impatiently and repeatedly refreshing an ESPN box score for hours like a maniac. This was the Mamba Experience. Steph Curry may have resurrected it, but he’s not the first player to make NBA fans tingle with excitement. You simply did whatever it took to experience one of these patented Kobe performances in the moment, no matter how silly the form that experience took. Like refreshing a box score, just to see the number rise in the points column, from 30 to 40 to 50 to 60, mouth agape. It’s the moments such as those that capture the attention of fans all over the world, fans young and old. It’s those moments that perfectly encapsulate his legacy.
Varoon Bose: I don’t hate Kobe Bryant, but fuck Kobe. As a Blazers fan, he and the dominant Lakers of the early 2000s prevented the city of Portland from celebrating at minimum one championship. Is there a more memorable (or for me, painful) alley-oop in the history of basketball than this?
For someone so notorious for ball-hogging and playing isolation ball, the one time he actually did pass had to be against the Blazers. Not to mention, Kobe also did shit like this which made me lose sleep at night.
So yes, as a Blazers fan, Kobe ruined my childhood. But as a basketball fan, Kobe was…well Kobe. For some reason, his game-winner over the Phoenix Suns in the 2006
There’s something about this shot that exemplifies everything about Kobe Bryant the basketball player. As soon as Luke Walton wins the tip, there’s an urgency to Kobe to grab the ball before everyone else. He always had that above his competitors. As he dribbles, he’s completely locked in. Nothing else matters for the final five seconds. Notice how he dribbles at a diagonal, as opposed to towards the basket. He knew exactly what he was going to do the entire play, no matter how many defenders were around him. That’s Kobe though, thoughtful and calculated, sometimes to a fault.
Even Kobe’s celebration is quintessential Kobe. A simple fist pump, a stare down, as if to say, “Yes, I knew it, I knew I could do it.” There’s no surprise or shock to his reaction. Again, he just knew.
Oh and Sasha Vujacic being the first to hug him? Yeah, that’s all of us rolling our eyes and reminding ourselves how much we hated Kobe. I mean for God’s sake, Sasha Vujacic is one of his best friends.
And then, there’s the iconic jersey pull and scream. The jersey tug, to reveal not just his heart, but the fact that he believes he has more heart than anyone else in the building. The yell, a guttural, cracking sound made by a warlord after ending the life of his final enemy in battle. And his stare, to remind everyone that he is in this moment, the greatest.
So with all due respect, fuck you Kobe, and farewell to the greatest of our generation.